Mary Holm on investing

Mary Holm is a personal finance writer

Mary Holm: Renters need a fund for retirement

19 comments
Rents will rise with inflation and savings will earn returns so over time the change in values should come out in the wash. Photo / Thinkstock
Rents will rise with inflation and savings will earn returns so over time the change in values should come out in the wash. Photo / Thinkstock

I am 53 years old, single, earn $115,000 a year and have no debt. I am in good health, see myself in my current career for at least another 10 years and expect my income to increase.

I am renting and very happy doing so for the foreseeable future. I have no desire to purchase a property, as the property I am renting is in a highly desirable location and the rent is well below market rates. I have a flatmate, so in net terms I am paying $250 a week in rent.

What should I do with my $25,000 in savings and future savings? I am saving $1000 a fortnight which is being added to the $25,000.

I have the money in a bank account as I don't have a clue where else to put it that leaves me feeling secure, particularly given the current turmoil in Europe and potential flow-on effects in New Zealand.

To be honest, I'm not worried about the best return. I'm concerned about the investment still being there in a year's time and worth what it is now.

There's no need for you to ever own your own home. But if you don't, it's best to have a lump sum at retirement to cover your rent until you die - or to buy a home later if you change your mind.

Generally, retirees who have their accommodation taken care of - either through a mortgage-free home or savings for rent - can do okay living on NZ Super, with no other savings. But those still making big mortgage or rent payments tend to struggle.

How much do you need for rent in retirement? Let's start with how long you expect to live. As a healthy male, and especially if your parents didn't die young, you might guess at 90 - knowing that if you live longer than that, NZ Super will probably cover your expenses. Older retirees don't usually spend much.

So, if you retire at 65, let's say you want to fund 25 years of rent. Multiplying your current rent, at $13,000 a year, by 25 brings us to $325,000. Funnily enough, at your saving rate you will set aside just a bit more than that - $337,000 - in the next 12 years.

But hang on a minute - I've ignored the following: rents will rise with inflation, your savings will earn returns and grow before retirement and your rent fund will also earn returns throughout your retirement.

The tidy part is that that should all come out in the wash - if we assume that rents rise at about the same rate as after-tax, after-fees returns on your savings. And you have a buffer, in that your pay - and therefore your ability to save - is likely to increase.

Keep in mind, though, that we're assuming the following:

•You will be content to live in retirement on NZ Super. Currently it appears that you spend roughly $40,000 a year after tax, rent and savings. That compares with about $17,700 in NZ Super, after tax, if you are single and living alone, and $16,300 if you are sharing.

•If you live past 90, you'll manage to cover rent as well as other expenses on NZ Super.

•Your rental situation continues to work well. If not, you may have to pay considerably more.

•Everything else goes smoothly. What if you have health problems, lose your job and can't find another one, or want to support a family member in difficulties?

Our scenario is hardly generous. If you would like to be in a stronger position, there are a couple of ways to do this.

One is to increase your rate of saving - and not just proportionately when you get pay rises. You might, for example, boost your savings by $50 each fortnight.

Another is to invest in something riskier, perhaps a share fund. Its value will fall sometimes, but that's not the point. Over the longer term, it will probably grow considerably faster than term deposits. What's more, investing in shares protects you against inflation eroding your savings. In that sense, shares are less risky than term deposits.

If you feel nervous about shares, you could start with $1000 a year for a few years. If you become comfortable, then you could review your strategy. If not, you could sell them without being exposed to much risk.

To the extent you want to stick with bank term deposits, I suggest you keep an eye on different banks' rates - perhaps via www.canstar.co.nz, www.depositrates.co.nz or www.interest.co.nz. Also, stagger the terms, so that you have some maturing in, say, six months, some in a year, some in two years and so on. That way you won't have a whole lot tied up if interest rates rise.

One final point: If you are not in KiwiSaver, make it part of your savings plan, to get your share of Government and employer contributions. You could, perhaps, invest your KiwiSaver money in a higher-risk fund. That could help you to learn about investing in shares.

Taxpayer gift

How nice that the family in last week's column is able to support three children through university, purchase laptops, provide a car, up their children's living allowances and have their away-from-home student receive a student allowance (courtesy of myself), bank it, earn interest and then pay off their student loan at the end "to benefit from the 10 per cent early repayment bonus".

A student allowance is "to assist with day-to-day living expenses" and is not repayable. The family income must be below about $83,000 to receive this. Gee, I'd like to know how they did all of the above with a household income less than this in (probably) Remuera.

Really enjoy your column....
even if it makes you a bit cross sometimes?

Last week's correspondent probably used the wrong words. You're quite right that you don't have to pay back a student allowance, it's a gift from taxpayers. You're also right that to get that allowance your parents' income has to be less than about $83,000 (or about $90,000 if the student lives away from home) - assuming the student is aged 18 to 23 and has no children.

But when we look at student loans - which certainly are repayable - there are three parts: compulsory fees, course-related costs and living costs. I bet the correspondent was referring to a loan to cover living costs.

That still raises the issue of whether it's ethical to take out a student loan when you don't need it. Because student loans are interest-free, they are subsidised by taxpayers. The Government provides the money now and doesn't get it back until later. And the recently introduced repayment bonus is a further subsidy.

I'm torn between saying to students: "You shouldn't take advantage of these subsidies if you can get by comfortably without them," and: "You are legally entitled to a student loan. Go for it."

In a way, it's not that different from questioning whether well-off people should join KiwiSaver, which is also subsidised by taxpayers.

In the end, I think, it's up to the Government to set up a more targeted system if it wants only certain people to use student loans.

Pension hassles

I notice that you have been discussing NZ Super and means-testing. I wonder how many readers are unaware of the legal obligation to apply for an Aussie pension if you have ever lived there.

My husband applied for NZ Super, which was approved. There was no means-testing, as I was not applying (am under 65). Nice and simple.

But ... to our surprise we found a couple of days after approval that because we had spent some time in Australia, we had to apply for an Australian pension. This is the New Zealand law. One does not get any more money; the Aussie pension is credited against the New Zealand one, so you receive exactly the same.

Only "problem" is that the Aussie one is means-tested. The book (it is like a small book!) they give you to fill in covers absolutely everything. They even ask if you have money in the house over normal spending money.

We have a couple of struggling rentals, which are in individual trusts with company trustees, so had to fill in four additional booklets (one for each company, one for each trust). Full financial statements plus all bank statements, etc, were needed.

It is a huge job and turning out to be quite expensive (needed accountant's input), but we have no choice. In our case this has been going on for seven months and they are still asking for additional information.

Each year from now on we will have a form to fill in, and have to send copies of financial statements.

Sounds like a quite a hassle. But there's no way around it.

"It's important for clients to tell us if they have lived overseas when they apply for NZ Superannuation," says Merv Dacre, general manager senior services at the Ministry of Social Development. He confirms what you say, that applicants are required, by law, "to take all reasonable steps to apply for any overseas pensions for which they may be eligible".

Once it has been established that you are eligible for an Australian age pension - or any other overseas benefit or pension that is administered by or on behalf of an overseas government - the amount of the overseas benefit or pension is subtracted from your NZ Super, says Dacre.

"In effect the total amount of your overseas pension and your reduced rate of NZ Super is equivalent to the maximum rate of New Zealand Superannuation."

He does seem to have some sympathy for you.

"We understand the process for Australian pension applications can be complex. However, the forms are issued by the Australian agency Centrelink, which delivers health, social and welfare payments and services.

"In general, Centrelink requires more information when applying for Australian pensions as they are income- and asset-tested whereas NZ Super is not."

For more info, go to www.tinyurl.com/austpensions.

Footnote 1: Those who think NZ Super should be means-tested - and the argument does have appeal - should note how much bureaucracy that entails in Australia.

Footnote 2: I've received other letters about how overseas pensions can reduce NZ Super. We've gone into this controversial topic before in this column. Sorry, but I don't plan to do it again beyond the letter above.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, part-time university lecturer, member of the Financial Markets Authority board, director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme, seminar presenter and best-selling author on personal finance. Her website is www.maryholm.com. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary's advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to mary@maryholm.com or Money Column, Business Herald, PO Box 32, Auckland. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won't publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Sorry, but Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.

- NZ Herald

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